Going into the season, there was a buzz generated around Wheeling after the Nailers announced Mark French as head coach, and then days later, named Derek Army to his staff as assistant. 21 games into the season, the Nailers are 5-12-4 and just got swept on the road by the Fort Wayne Komets and things are looking bleak. However, there is still a lot to be excited about and here is what the Nailers need to do to turn things around, plus a few things to remember.
Let’s start by looking at some issues the Nailers were facing before their series against Fort Wayne. Wheeling had five ECHL contracted players on professional tryouts in the AHL; Ryan Scarfo, Nick Rivera, Matt Miller, Dylan MacPherson and Michael Joly. Rivera and Miller are on their way back and should be in the lineup this week, pending clearance of COVID protocols.
Prior to MacPherson’s call-up, he was the Nailers leader in play time and was a key piece to the defence with Chad Duchesne (currently on IR) and I think defensively, the Nailers need to find more balance, which is hard with the amount of injuries and call-ups that are happening. Yes, this happens every season, but this year, with the amount of talent in the league, team chemistry is that much more important and team chemistry is hard to build when you have the amount of player turnover happening with Wheeling right now.
The other issue the Nailers have is producing shots. Unfortunately, they are last in shots, averaging 25.95 shots per game, which is also translating to 11th in goals. If you are not producing shots, then you cannot produce goals. With the turnover of injuries and call-ups on defence, the Nailers have also rank last in goals against.
Francois Brassard and Hayden Hawkey are talented goalies, but if the defence is out of position, you cannot expect the goalie to stop every shot. The Penguins have reassigned Alex D’Orio to Wheeling this week after his stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins taxi squad. With D’Orio’s reassignment, the Nailers have four goalies with Brandon Halverson currently on the IR.
Once the Nailers can get healthy, I believe they will begin to play much better, more consistent and begin to win games. Patrick Watling was first in points on the team prior to his injury and even earned ECHL Player of the Week honours. Joshua Winquist, who the Nailers signed in January, immediately made an impact to the scoring sheet before being sidelined due to a knew injury. The centreman recorded two goals along with four assists through seven games played.
Brad Drobot is also injured, but he is not known for his point production since he is the team’s enforcer. Shane Kuzmeski was also put on the IR this week, while Nailers broadcaster D.J. Abisilah said Evan Wardley suffered a minor injury back on February 20th. The severity of his injury is unknown, however.
This weekend, the Wheeling Nailers make their way to Fort Wayne for a two-game series. The two will go head-to-head at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
If the Nailers can gel defensively and get more shots on the net, anything is possible. I know that things seem rough now, but during the 2015-16 season, the Nailers lost five out of six home games and things were looking bleak, but Wheeling ended up reaching the Kelly Cup Championship. Let’s Go Nailers.